Healthy Weight vs. Vanity Weight

A couple of months ago, I realized that my bingeing had pushed my weight up to a point where not only was I unhappy with the way I looked (I’m working on that), but I honestly didn’t FEEL all that great, either.  I was above my personal “Healthy” weight by about 10 pounds or so.  So I started workout out, eating better (er, sort of – more on that later), all that good stuff.

And I’ve dropped about 10 pounds.  I’m at the middle-to-high end of my healthy weight range right now – not according to BMI or fat calipers or any of that, but according to how I FEEL.  According to whether I can run on the treadmill or whether I get out of breath climbing several flights of stairs or whether I wake up in the morning feeling energized vs. lethargic.  I’m feeling much better now than I did a couple of months ago, and if I lose another 5-8 pounds, I’ll feel fantastic.

But I won’t be thin.  My face will still be round, my dress size firmly entrenched in the double digits (where, in all fairness, it remained even when I was starving – although with vanity sizing these days, my college-sized self would probably be a US 6 or MAYBE an 8).  I won’t be comfortable in a bikini (damned social conditioning) and I’ll still be hyper-conscious of what I put in my grocery cart.

And I’ll want to keep dieting.  I already know that.  Because I will have dropped down into a Healthy Weight range, but not low enough for Vanity Weight.  To be quite specific with the numbers, I hit a high of 190.  Right now I’m just under 180.  I feel healthy between 170 and 180.  But I LOOK thin at 140.  I don’t feel unhealthy at that weight, but neither are there any additional health benefits for me at 140 that I don’t have at 170.  The numbers are the same.  So that 30 pound difference is all about vanity.  It’s all about what a culture tells me my body should look like, and my capitulation to that culture. 

Please be assured that if I “eat right and exercise” my body will NOT naturally drop to 140.  It takes some very aggresive, borderline compulsive dieting to get there, and to get any lower takes a flat-out eating disorder.  But I really want to be that weight.  I really want the scale to hover between 140 and 145.  I want the 27-inch waist that comes with that weight.  I want the Jessica Biel muscles (which I’ve had, at least in my lower body, and which are the specific reason that my weight doesn’t get much lower than 140 without starving).

And still, I come back to the question of why?  Why, when I KNOW that I’m healthy at a higher weight, a weight that’s easy to maintain, that seems to get positive feedback from both men and women, WHY do I want so much to be smaller?  And in the end, I have to acknowledge that it’s straight-up cultural conditioning.  Way back when, I posted a question that had been asked of me at one time:

Think of all the things you want to do that you’ll be able to do when you lose weight.  Whether it’s to climb a flight of stairs, run a marathon or play with your kids in the backyard.  Imagine your “perfect” life.  Now imagine that you woke up tomorrow, and all those things were true . . . but your weight is exactly the same.  Do you still want to lose?  Or are you genuinely happy with where you’re at?  Taken a step further, what if you had to choose between being a super-healthy, fantastic athlete at your current weight, or a not-so-healthy thin person who gets winded climbing stairs but looks good by society’s standards?  Which do you choose?

I never forgot that scenario (obviously).  And I know what I’d like to THINK I choose, but I also hear a small, insistent voice way down deep in the depths of my consciousness saying, “But we could be THIN.”  I don’t like that voice: it’s the voice that was shaped by my culture, the voice that isn’t even really MINE in a way, a voice that was implanted in me as I grew up (as all our cultural expectations are).  But it put down roots, and the culture watered it, and I fertilized it, and now I can’t really separate out where It ends and I begin.  We are one, that voice and I.  And it wants to be thin.  And so do I. 

So when I started losing weight, I told myself I would get down to my healthy weight, and then just keep doing what I was doing, and when I stopped losing weight, I would just stop.  I wouldn’t push it any farther.  I would try my best to find that happy medium between thin and crazy.  But this last week, my weight loss plateaued and I found myself freaking out.  What if I couldn’t lose?  What if this was it?  What if, what if, what if?

As it turned out, I dropped 3 pounds literally overnight.  And then I remembered, oh yeah.  My body has always been this way: for days, sometimes weeks, the scale will show nothing, or at best, teeny incremental changes.  And then one morning I’ll wake up and be 3 or 4 or even 8 or 9 pounds lighter.  It’s like the weight vanished in the night, and it doesn’t come back.  (And it’s happened with every scale I’ve ever owned, on every surface I can find to put it on, so it’s not a scale malfunction.  You can IMAGINE how much that mind-fucked the nice ladies at Weight Watchers.) 

I was actually distressed to realize how relieved I was when the scale dropped.  I was distressed to realize how much I want the Vanity Weight, as opposed to being happy with the Healthy Weight.  I don’t like how much I’ve bought into the idea of being Perfect and Thin, but so far I haven’t been able to shake it.

Maybe for now, it’s enough to just be aware of the dichotomy existing in my head.  In fact, it has to be enough, because so far, that’s as far as I’ve been able to get.  On the other hand, 5 years ago I wasn’t even conscious of the dichotomy, so that’s still progress.  Two steps forward, one step back.

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8 responses to “Healthy Weight vs. Vanity Weight

  1. so often we forget to honor our bodies for what they do, rather than what they look like.

  2. Oh girl, I hear you. On all levels. The other day, I posted about the numbers driving me crazy. My weight was up 6 pounds from the lowest weight pre-holidays (3 from the highest – I have a bout a 3 pound range generally) and yada, yada, yada. The next day I got on the scale, and I was back down at the lowest weight. I hadn’t been there for over a month. I also haven’t been back since (but close). It was really worriesome (or rather it *is* worriesome how much seeing that number again calmed me down. I was pretty much freakin out, and suddenly everything was okay. Because of a number that was 6 pounds lower than it had been the morning before. Of course since then it has been back in my 3 pound range, and not at the low number. But it calmed me down. A little too much. Because really? I shouldn’t care so damn much about a stupid number.

  3. Emily, isn’t that the truth? God forbid I just be GRATEFUL for all the miracles my body performs every day (sometimes in spite of what I put it through). Yeah, I want the social package, too. I’m working on overcoming that, but HOLY COW.

    Sassy, I know exactly what you mean. And on the days when my weight is down, I sail through the day in a calm sort of haze. And when it’s up, I’m not happy. Even when my pants fit the same, I THINK they’re smaller. Does that make sense? Geez.

  4. Oh my, this is a great post. And I congratulate you for putting your weight on here. I read so many blogs and people are saying they are too thin or too heavy and I have no idea how much they weigh, how tall they are, how much muscle mass they have. And yet I compare myself to them, to people I’ve never seen! I think I’ll post my weight on my blog too.

    Right now I want to be 140 and my cardiologist wants me to be 140. I’m close – very close. (I definitely don’t have a 27″ waist though – belly fat is my enemy). I wish he hadn’t mentioned a number, really. Because it’s like a challenge – he wants me to be 140 so I’m going to be 140 dammit.

    But you know what? I really want to be 110 or 120. To me, it seems everyone is that small. Of course they are all probably at least 7 inches shorter than me, but it doesn’t matter. 140 sounds like a large number. It will suit me just fine – I’ll be incredibly healthy at 140. But it seems like a big number! If I actually ever weighed 110 or 120 I’d be on death’s doorstep.

    When I was between 170 and 180 I wasn’t healthy though. My blood levels were causing me to consider meds. Losing weight has helped with that, and I’m proud of the fact that I was able to become more healthy by losing the weight. But why is the number on the scale so important?

    Wow, it seems like so many of us are talking about this topic today.

  5. Marste, it is all bullshit. You know it is BS, I know it is BS, the real world knows it is BS. We have these thoughts in our head and constantly seek to justify them with the BS in the media, and the BS of people as messed up as we are.

    You are a beautiful, talented and kind person. ED is just yanking on your chain, hoping to score. You deserve happiness, and happiness is not weight dependant.

    Lola x

  6. You know Harriet, I was surprised to realize that it didn’t bother me to post my weight. I’ve been working really hard on being ok, RIGHT WHERE I AM, and it seems like it’s finally working a little bit. Besides, I didn’t feel like I was posting an “OMG, I’m so FAT!” post; it was more that the numbers were helpful for the clarification of the post. Does that make sense?

    As for the high-seeming numbers, I’ve been lucky in that even when I was really thin, I always knew my weight would be higher than it “seemed” like it should be. But then, I’ve always carried a LOT of muscle. I joke about wanting to look like Jessica Biel, but for a while in my life, I pretty much did. My arms weren’t as defined, but the rest of me was SUPER-muscular.

    Lola, I love you. 😉 I know what you mean. I think the hard part for me is teasing out what’s normal from what’s not, though. It’s getting easier, but I definitely still have moments where being super-thin seems totally reasonable, LOL. (Even though when I was thin, I was NEVER SUPER-thin. *shakes head*)

  7. hi! i finally wandered over here … started skimming posts … and decided to comment. reading this i’m wondering … how tall are you? 5’9″-6’something?

  8. Hi T! Glad to have you! I’m 5’8″, but I’ve always been muscular, which accounts for quite a bit of the “extra” weight.

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